’A man so various that he seem’d to be, not one, but all mankind’s
epitome; everything by starts but nothing long; fiddler, statesman,
scholar and buffoon, all in the course of one revolving moon.’ That
comes from Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden’s savage assault upon Lord
Shaftesbury, a 17th century politician of more than usual
I hope I’m not that devious, but I have tried about every way you can
imagine - and quite a few you couldn’t - to make money. For instance 30
odd years ago I named and helped put together a research firm, which got
a whopping great contract from part of British Rail. For all I know it
was the first consumer research BR did.
I actually drafted the questionnaire - rather worrying, since a lot of
research comes up with the wrong answers because the wrong questions are
asked. For instance, asking people whether they will buy a product is
rarely likely to give the right answer, which is why so many products
predicted to succeed fail. Professor Andrew Ehrenberg, to whom I make no
apology for quoting again, as he is always lucid and often funny,
suggests the real question is, would you give up the product you are
using now to buy this new one?
I recalled this on returning recently, very tired, from the Far
I was handed a leaflet saying, ’Pre-book your London taxi’ as I was
about to catch the splendid new Heathrow Express. ’What a good idea’, I
thought, and began to read the copy, carefully printed for minimum
legibility in sanserif type on a mauve background.
Few things tend to jaundice this weary traveller than a slew of cliches
at 7am, so I was thrown into deep despondency as I read the turgid
opening: ’As part of our ongoing service enhancement Heathrow Express
are conducting a trial operation to enable our customers to buy a
pre-booked taxi voucher at Heathrow Central Station’. Why the hell can’t
these people write plain English?
Now the one thing you really want before you buy anything new is precise
facts. They said that they would ’speed me through Paddington’ - though
guaranteeing me a taxi within ten minutes of the train’s arrival seems
more sloth than speed - and take me anywhere within Central London for
pounds 10. But what precisely does ’central’ London mean, do you think?
Imagine you’ve just arrived from Osaka and you’ve never been to London
I live here, and don’t know. Does it cover Hammersmith, for
Whatever this trial reveals is likely to be distorted for that reason
alone - another being that after I was handed the leaflet, nobody really
tried to get me to buy the service. Believe me, if you were in the state
I was - and many of us are after being submitted to the tender mercies
of airlines (in this case, the chilly courtesy of Lufthansa) - you are
in no condition to make efforts to do anything. It really has to be done
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership.